Izy Berry is the writer and editor of The Wrong Way Home, a travel blog documenting Izy’s nomadic life. Izy talks about her life now and her work in Cambodia volunteering – answering the questions you want to know!
FSOT: What was your first travel experience? Did it make you want to travel again?
My first travel experience outside of Australia and New Zealand was in Hong Kong. It was so overwhelming: different sights, sounds, and smells… It was intoxicating and I knew I was hooked.
FSOT: What was the biggest culture shock when living in Cambodia?
There’s a lot of poverty in Cambodia and unfortunately if you are not Cambodian you tend to stick out like a sore thumb. There’s sort of a seedy underside to Cambodia that is just there to make money from tourists, such as children in Siem Reap begging for food from the convenience stores, only to return it for a profit. There’s also a very painful history due to the Khmer Rouge and the effects are still prominent even some 40 odd years later.
FSOT: What has it been like volunteering in a country like Cambodia alone?
It was hands down one of my best travel experiences I’d ever had. Firstly, I was able to connect with the locals on a really personal basis. I was based in a very small town that tourists didn’t really visit, so anyone who saw me knew why I was there and were very welcoming of me. Secondly, the other people I met volunteering are some of my dearest friends. Being surrounded by a group of people who are putting other people’s needs first is a very special group of people.
FSOT: Do you have any allergies or dietary requirements that affect your travelling? If so, how do you deal with them?
I’m very lucky in the fact I don’t have any real issues. One thing I can comment on is that I often find it very hard to drink enough bottled water in Asia because it tastes weird. I also don’t think it hydrates you very well – I get the feeling it’s quite a low quality water. I would buy locally rehydration salts and add them to my water and I felt SO much better. It makes a big difference in the heat.
FSOT: Did you have to pay for anything when completing the volunteer program? If so what?
I don’t believe in paying for volunteering. Recently I have been looking at other projects in other countries and the costs are outrageous – $3,000-$4,000 per month in third world countries to donate your time, come on? I could have a luxury holiday in Cambodia for the $3,000 a month mark – why on earth should it cost so much to donate your time. The organization I volunteered with www.newfuturesorganisation.com only asks for a small donation, which helps fund the local schools. They are transparent with their spending which I think is important. My theory is, if the organization truly needs help they’re not going to ask you to pay a large sum of money for it. Some people have cottoned onto the concept of Voluntourism, which is charging foreigners large sums of money to help out and then turning a profit. Please don’t support this!
FSOT: If you could give one piece of advice to people wanting to travel and complete a volunteer program – what would it be?
Find somewhere that wants you and your services, not just your money. I found out about New Futures Organisation through a friend I met traveling. If your searches online aren’t bringing up any good options and you don’t know anyone who has volunteered where you want to go, try using Couchsurfing to network with local people to find out about places that genuinely need help. It shouldn’t cost a fortune to help those who really need it.
FSOT: Where are you travelling to next?
I’m leaving home indefinitely for long term travel/location independence at the end of July with my partner. We’ll be spending a month in Indonesia, before making our way onto Singapore, Dubai and then Europe. I can’t wait!
FSOT: That sounds amazing! Has completing this volunteer program changed your goals for the future?
It taught me so much about life; that money isn’t everything. I’ve learned that some of the poorest people I’ve met are some of the happiest. In the past I would collect expensive things like flash handbags, the latest electronics and designer clothes and I thought that would bring happiness: nope! Connecting with people and sharing experiences together is what brings me happiness.
One day I hope to open up a school in Cambodia or India and provide free education to children who need it the most. If you’ve been thinking about volunteering overseas or even locally, stop putting it off! I’m sure it will be one of the most life-changing experiences of your life.
A special thanks to Izy Berry for telling us about her experience volunteering abroad and all the best for the rest of your travels. If you want to follow Izy’s journey to Indonesia and on, check out her blog The Wrong Way Home here!